Jeremiah’s book is God’s spiritual and moral bristle brush: it always gives my soul a good scrub when I read it. God, as the prophet tells us, will confront sin. Chaos is coming. Why? Because national religious and political leaders all support evil: the evil of ignoring God’s words and ways. Jeremiah promises his readers that the stability they long for will be scrubbed away as a result.
Jeremiah’s original audience is the citizenry of Jerusalem just before the Babylonian army besieged the city, sacked it, and dragged away a large number of its citizens to exile. It’s a book that also applies in stark ways to us as Christians in our respective countries and in the world at large.
A lesson Jeremiah offers is that while the evil of any sinful community will create chaos for others, that chaos will ultimately rebound back on them. God, however, still works through chaos to provide a secure outcome for those who love him. He is not the author of evil but he does rule over it. Yet the impact of societal sin is indiscriminate and widespread so even God’s faithful people are not promised shelter from it.
When in the history of any people the bulging wall of evil will collapse isn’t clear but the principle is certain: as embedded evil moves freely in a realm it eventually shatters the society it inhabits. Only the particulars are unpredictable.
The problem. Jeremiah presents evil as a very personal problem: as a heartfelt distaste for God by individuals and by society at large. Sin is a collective rejection of God’s loving rule. Yet many of the rebels may claim to be faithful to him. Why dismiss God outright when he can be seen as a petty figure to be placated with superficial acts of devotion? The aim of such religion is personal security—to harvest any divine benefits—while not really caring about God or listening to him.
God’s response? Grief and anger. He presents himself not as a distant force or an immobile deity but as a hated husband whose wife regularly leaves home to give herself to men around the town. He finally says, Enough! “You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me? declares the LORD” (3:1).
The rationale of sin. The people who abandon God start by refusing to take him seriously in small matters. Their sin is what “everybody does” and they use this relativizing theme to build a false security. By collectively ignoring what God actually says about himself the religious leaders, the politicians, and the people reduce him to a lucky charm—an object of superstition—rather than as the beloved companion he means to be. They also start to delight in their own wisdom, power, and wealth (9:23-24). In the end the whole nation dismisses God and his words from daily life even though some continue to pray for personal security and special benefits.
In Jeremiah’s day God’s temple was an ultimate security blanket—a place God would always protect. But the people were wrong: “Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD’” (7:4). In the end the temple was destroyed and so was the nation.
Let me switch gears and suggest something of what we can learn of God here even if it is a bristly lesson. God’s ambition is not to make us secure in this fallen world but to redirect our hearts away from its false values so we can be ready for any chaos that lies ahead. A broader frame will help.
God’s first action, after Adam’s fall, was to curse the earth to the process of decay. The first couple, made from earth, would therefore face a physical death. They were already dead spiritually and it would not be a grace of God to allow them to live eternally and securely in their sinful independence. The certainty of physical death forces a dying person to ask questions about eternity. So the ultimate chaos: a crumbling universe that includes earthquakes, plagues, decay, pain, and death is all the fruit of Adam’s first rebellion. God is not to be blamed for it. Sin has its consequences.
Where, then, does this leave those of us who know and love Christ? With the certainty that our world today is so much like Judea in the time of Jeremiah that we can be sure that chaos lies ahead. Do we love stability? Yes! Does God want us to be stable and secure? Yes! Will we find it in this world in days ahead? Probably not.
The complete fulfillment of our longing is yet to come. When God’s people are finally fully gathered he will put an end to evil. He will replace the present realm with the new heavens and the new earth, all finally free from the curse of evil. Until then we embrace him rather than our circumstances as our ultimate point of stability. He alone offers a peace that passes understanding because he cares for us, even in a broken world.